I have a bit of a love affair with Sarah Kieffer and her cakes. Admittedly, I've had her cookbook for half a year and have only ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the stunning cakes on its pages, never having my go at them myself in the kitchen. When my birthday came up a couple weeks ago, I knew I had to break out her pretty book again and finally put one of her cake recipes to the test. And goodness me, I'm never making another vanilla cake again. Intensely vanilla flavored with a crumb that's a fine line between that of a structured pound cake and a fluffy layer cake (aka it doesn't feel like you're chomping on air cause no one likes that for their birthday cake, am I right?), it's a fine birthday cake indeed.
I adapted her recipe only a little, mostly just to satisfy my need for tall layer cakes - this way, it now has enough batter to make three layers, and of course we all want three layers and not two. More cake, more ganache, more buttercream. Everyone's happy. With a rich bittersweet ganache filling and a buttercream reminiscent of heaven and caramel, I can't see myself making any other cake than this one for all my birthdays from here on out.
Also, I made this twice in one week. No shame. Make it and you'll understand completely.
Vanilla Cake with Bittersweet Ganache and Brown Butter Buttercream
*vanilla cake and brown butter buttercream adapted from this book.
For the cake:
5 large eggs
3 egg yolks
1 1/2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup + 2 tablespoons sour cream
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons buttermilk
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
3 cups all-purpose flour (I used whole wheat pastry flour with great results)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 rounded teaspoon baking powder
1 rounded teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt
3/4 lb (3 sticks) salted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces
For the brown butter buttercream:
3/4 lb. (3 sticks) salted butter, cold, for browning
1/4 lb. (1 stick) salted butter, room temperature
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup heavy cream
Seeds from one vanilla bean, or two teaspoons of this, which is what I used
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 cups (452 g) confectioners' sugar
For the chocolate ganache:
3/4 cup heavy cream
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Make the cake:
Adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour three 8 by 2-inch round cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter parchment paper.
In a medium bowl or large liquid measuring cup, whisk the eggs, egg yolks, vanilla, sour cream, buttermilk, and maple syrup.
In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt on low until combined. With the mixer running on low, add the butter one piece at a time, beating until the mixture resembles coarse sand. With the mixer still running on low, slowly add half the wet ingredients. Increase the speed to medium and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. With the mixer running on low, add the rest of the wet ingredients, mixing until just combined. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 20 seconds (the batter may still look a little lumpy). Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and use a spatula to mix the batter a few more times.
Divide the batter between the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Tap the pans gently on the counter a couple times each to help get rid of any bubbles. Bake 17 to 22 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through, until the cakes are golden brown and pull slightly away from the sides and a wooden skewer or toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean.
Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool for 30 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto the rack, remove the parchment paper, and let cool completely. Once cool, wrap the cakes in plastic and freeze for a least an hour.
Make the frosting:
Melt the cold butter in a light-colored, heavy-bottomed skillet or saucepan over medium-low heat. Swirl the butter around with a rubber spatula as it melts and starts to bubble. When it starts bubbling, increase the heat to medium and keep stirring the butter until it boils and begins to foam, 3 to 5 minutes. It will smell nutty and heavenly and you'll feel like you're getting drunk on the insanely delicious smell. You'll also start to see little brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring, making sure to gently scrape the bottom of the pan with the spatula as you do. At this point, the butter will begin to quickly change from light brown to dark to burned, so keep a close eye on the pan. Once it is golden brown, remove from the heat, and pour the butter and any bits or flecks on the bottom of the pan into a heatproof, freezer-safe bowl and let cool for 10 minutes. Then place the bowl in the freezer and let chill until solid, about 30 minutes (you can also put it in the fridge to cool, but it will take a bit longer). When the butter is solid (but not frozen!), transfer it to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk.
Add the remaining 1/2 cup of butter to the brown butter and beat on medium until smooth. Add the cream cheese and beat on medium until smooth and creamy. Add the heavy cream, vanilla beans/paste, and salt and mix on low to combine. With the mixer running on low, slowly add the confectioners' sugar and beat until combined. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary, 6 to 8 minutes.
Make the ganache:
Place cream in medium-sized saucepan set over medium-high heat and bring just to a boil. Turn heat off and add chocolate. Let stand for a couple minutes without stirring, then stir with a whisk until smooth and shiny to break up any pieces and emulsify cream and chocolate.
Assemble the cake:
Place a layer of your chilled cake on a cake stand (or even better, a turntable) and top with half the ganache, leaving half an inch around the edges of the cake without ganache. Top with second cake layer and repeat the process, and then top with your third layer of cake. Frost sides and top of cake with buttercream (you'll most likely have extra frosting), and let cake come to room temperature before serving.